In the aftermath following decades of communism, a Czech bishop reveals that although the number of those who practice their faith in the country has diminished, people are ready to hear the Gospel.
“That’s what we take as our mission, the re-evangelization. We try to enter in the society with the message of the Gospel, something good, positive, that can address them,” Bishop Jan Vokal told CNA/EWTN News in an Oct. 14 interview.
“In fact,” noted the bishop, there are a lot of people interested in hearing the Gospel, “because it’s something they, inside of them, they search for or look for that they cannot find anywhere but in God. So the Church will try to offer this to them.”
Bishop Vokal oversees the Eastern Bohemian diocese of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic, and was present in Rome for the entrustment of the world to Our Lady of Fatima over the weekend.
Speaking of the impact which past wars have had on the country’s history and faith situation, the bishop said that “before the second world war, we were a very Christian country. I think nearly everyone was baptized, mostly in the Catholic Church.”
“Then the war came, and after the war, several decades of totalitarian regime of communism, which oppressed all the human liberties, among them also the religious freedom.”
The bishop stressed that in wake of the oppression experienced while the communist party was in power, the younger generations “are somehow marked by this situation,” noting that roughly “two thirds of the population do not believe, basically, in anything, or at least they do not practice any kind of religion.”
In order to re-awaken the faith in the lives of the Czech people, Bishop Vokal reflected that both the New Evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II, and a re-evangelization are needed.
“Regarding the young generations, it is rather a first evangelization, while for some other generations, it’s mostly re-evangelization.”
“It is important to ask” he encouraged, “that the other people would not look at church only as an institution, thus as a negative,” but rather “to say that the Church is the body of Christ, that means it is Christ Himself, and also that is you, because you baptized, you God’s child, and everything in between is all us together.”
“So (the) Church is something alive and positive, and its presence among us is positive.”
Bishop Vokal noted that the local Church in his diocese, which is “about one third” Catholic, is “in a fairly good position,” and that in the last few years there has been “a slight pick-up of vocations.”
In order to continue the trend, the bishop stressed that they have many programs in place which are directed to engaging the youth in dialogue about topics relevant in modern society, as well as fostering a greater devotion to Mary.
“In my whole life, and in my whole vocation to the priesthood and episcopacy, it was very important the Marian devotion,” he said, urging that “I consider very important that all the seminarians and future priests, would have a very strong and positive relationship with Mary.”
The bishop, who navigated through communist territory in 1983 in order to study abroad, which was illegal at the time, crossed into Italy the same year and began his studies in theology in order to become a priest.
Bishop Vokal was ordained in Rome by Bl. John Paul II and worked for twenty years at the secretary of state until he was appointed as bishop of his current diocese, in which he is working diligently for the conversion of the dominant atheistic population.